Hitting the Right Notes

Home to some of the greatest names in musical history, Leipzig in Germany has something for everyone – from history buffs to car enthusiasts and shopaholics – so much so that it will probably make you want to burst into song yourself.

leipzig.docxI arrived in Leipzig one bright and phosphorescent autumn afternoon. As the car gobbled up the buttery smooth A 14 tarmac, the drive to this central German Metropolitan Region city in Saxony had taken me through salubrious surroundings.

Misty meadows, contiguous hills and well-patterned vineyards leapt at me from a complex landscape that clearly belonged in a Karan Johar potboiler. Occasionally, the scenery was splashed with the azure of water bodies too, as Leipzig is wedged between three rivers — White Elster, Pleisse, and Parthe.

However, the biggest draw for me in Leipzig was not nature’s accoutrements (although that too), but a chance to visit the hometown of the granddaddies of music — Johann Sebastian Bach, Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy and Richard Wagner. Indeed, what could be greater nirvana for a music lover than to set foot on terra firma that has the world’s highest density of original residential and working places of top-notch musicians?

johann sabastian bachThere is musical history at virtually every corner in Leipzig, I discover while working its sun-splattered streets. Wagner was born in Leipzig, Bartholdy led the Gewandhaus Orchestra to international fame, and Schumann, the composer and influential music critic, studied in Leipzig University. Bach lived and worked in Leipzig for over 27 years and was later buried in the city’s St. Thomas’ Church. The Bach Museum, Schumann’s House and Mendelssohn’s House all pay an ode to the famous sons of this city.

A popular way to view the city’s musical heritage is through the Leipzig Music Trail. The 5.1 -km stroll helps one explore places associated with the city’s famed musicians on a route that winds through the city centre, marked by curved steel inserts in the ground. Leipzig is cosmopolitan and crackles with life in a way I don’t expect. Young people are ubiquitous, streaming out of Leipzig University’s glassy facade, squatting on sidewalks, chin wagging in cafés and putting up electrifying street performances, giving the city a fun and energising vibe.

medler passageThe reason for the city’s predominantly young demographic is that Leipzig has the second oldest University after Heidelberg, where over 50,000 students come every year from across the world to study. Incidentally, it was also within the walls of Leipzig’s St. Nicholas Church that the local youth unleashed a non-violent protest movement that soon engulfed Germany, culminating in the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany in 1989.

Post reunification, the story in the East has largely been one of deprivation — chronic unemployment, economic stagnation and youth fleeing to greener pastures. However, in places like Leipzig, federal funds have continued to pour in. Construction cranes dot the skyline, historic renovation projects are on in full swing, cultural events are aplenty and the dining/ nightlife scene is as pulsating as anywhere else in Europe.

Adding to Leipzig’s prosperity is its thriving arts scene and a rich architectural heritage prompting The New York Times to dub it “one of the top destinations in the world to visit”. In a stroll through the dense city centre, I spot medieval buildings next to stark modernist boxes, and gorgeous Baroque complexes existing cheek-by-jowl with churches dating circa the 1 100’s.

old town in the eveningSteeped in history, Leipzig was also the first town in Germany to win the right from the Emperor to hold a trade fair in 1497. Even today, Leipzig is considered to be Germany’s largest trading town. The Leipzig Fair — or the Leipziger Messe — is, in fact, the world’s oldest trade fair and is referred to as the ‘Mother of all Fairs’.

Due to its economic heft and reputation as a trade fair town, Leipzig also boasts the biggest train station in Germany. It is not only one of the most beautiful, but also the largest terminus in Europe with 26 platforms and 140 shops and restaurants.

The town’s reputation as an automobile, industry and technology hub is also well entrenched. Global players like DHL, Amazon and Siemens have their headquarters in Leipzig.

The Porsche Cayenne is produced here, as is the 3 Series of the BMW and the Volkswagen.

aurbacks kellerA visit to the Volkswagen Transparent factory was one of sheer delight for me. Not just another manufactory, this was a studio format designer facility where custom-made Phaetons are manufactured. The factory produces about 28 cars a day vis-a-vis a traditional set-up that would typically churn out about 4,000 cars daily.

After wrapping up my day’s work, I gravitate towards Grimmaische Street where we’re booked for dinner at a very historical place — the Auerbachs Keller (or Auerbach’s Cellar), a spectacular restaurant in the innards of the most beautiful shopping arcade — the Madler Passage.

trade fainThe Méidler Passage is a dazzling ensemble of spiffy boutiques, fine cafés, art galleries and retail outlets owned by the big daddies of the luxury market. Porsche Design, Mont Blanc, Bassetti, Givenchy, Bulgari, Coco Chanel, Prada, Lancome… all of them mark their presence on this slice of prime real estate.

Resisting the urge to splurge, I quickly make my way past the shops to the Auerbachs Keller that ranks among the world’s best. The ambience inside the eatery is distinctly medieval — chunky tables, old world décor and period bric-a-brac. The 100-seater eatery is bustling with people, waiters are expertly threading their way in between the tables with tray loads of victuals while a steady hum of voices, emanating from the diners’ tables, rises up to the ceiling like a crescendo.

concert hallOur hosts are charming and the evening seems full of promise. I experience fine Saxonian hospitality with 100 years of tradition, not to mention lip-smacking cuisine that left me a hunger to return.

Courtesy by G.N.

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